Bulgari (Bvlgari) is one of the most prestigious luxury houses in the world, and established in Italy they are specialised in high jewellery, luxury and high fashion accessories, fragrances, and luxury watches.
The House of Bvlgari’s great adventure is a wonderful family story, one that has been rooted in the heart of the City of Rome for the past 130 years. In 2010, the BVLGARI completely took over the Manufacture Gérald Genta and Manufacture Daniel Roth as the part of its expansion in haute horlogerie business. Since then, these two prestigious watch manufactures contribute their expertise in the production highly exclusive BVLGARI watches.
The only descendant of a Greek family of goldsmiths, Sotirio Boulgaris worked in his forebears’ business in the little village of Epirus until, in around 1880, he decided to move to Italy. In 1884, he opened his first shop in Rome at the Via Sistina between the fabled Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain. Eventually, he Italianized his Greek name and, in tribute to the ancient pieces he traded in, he decided to spell his brand “BVLGARI” with a V from the ancient Latin alphabet.
With his sons, Constantino and Giorgio, Sotirio soon relocated to via dei Condotti, one of Rome’s most exclusive addresses. To this day, this remains Bvlgari’s spiritual home and flagship store. The two brothers developed a very special interest in noble and precious metals, stones and gold which they incorporated into jewellery. They took over from their father with seamless ease and, continuing his creative legacy, creating daring pieces in a style that combined Greco-Roman art, the Italian Renaissance and Roman goldsmithing. From the 1920s onwards, Bvlgari created its first generation of watches as a complement to its haute jewellery collections.
THE HISTORY OF BVLGARI
The Bulgari’s descend from an ancient family of Greek silversmiths whose activity began in a small village of Epirus, where Sotirio, the founder of the family, made precious objects in silver. In 1879 Sotirio emigrated to Italy and after a few months spent in Naples he finally moved to Rome. At the very beginning he sold his objects in front of the French Academy on the Pincio. Then a Greek merchant offered to let him display his objects in a corner of the window of his shop, placed at the beginning of via Sistina. Sotirio was very successful; thanks to the original style of the ornaments he was selling.
In 1884 Sotirio was able to open his first store in the same street. In 1894 he moved to 28 via dei Condotti. In 1905 he moved the store to via dei Condotti 10. It was called “Old Curiosity Shop” from the title of a Charles Dickens novel. This name was chosen in order to attract British and American tourists. In these years Sotirio started to sell an increased selection of jewels and accessories for personal embellishment. As business in Rome during the summer months was very quiet, Sotirio decided to capitalize on trade at summer resorts. He settled for St. Moritz, where he was successful. In the succeeding years other subsidiaries were opened and run by Sotirio’s relatives.
However, after a while, he realized the necessity of concentrating his business in one location in order to excel in the art of jewellery and silver making. He therefore focused on his Rome store. The first decades of the 20th century were important for Sotirio’s sons, Giorgio and Costantino, who developed a passionate interest in precious stones and jewels and learnt the secrets of the trade, gradually taking over their father’s role. In 1934, two years after Sotirio’s death, the via dei Condotti store was enlarged and refurbished.
This new store was inaugurated on the 9th of April 1934 and it was so successful that both its façade and its interior served to illustrate the entry “negozio” in the Enciclopedia Treccani, the most important Italian encyclopedia. The period following the Second World War marked an important turning point in Bulgari history. In fact, it is during this period that Bulgari moved away from the strict disciplines of the dominant French school to create its own unique style inspired by the Greek and Roman classicism, the Italian Renaissance, and the 19th century Roman school of goldsmiths.
The 1970’s marked the beginning of the Group’s international expansion with the opening of stores in New York (the first overseas), Paris, Geneva, and Monte Carlo. It was also in this decade that Bulgari introduced the Bulgari Bulgari which was to become a successful watch classic. Bulgari Time was established in Neuchâtel – Switzerland in the early 80’s for the creation and production of all Bulgari watch lines. In 1984 the sons of Giorgio, Paolo Bulgari and Nicola Bulgari, became respectively Chairman and Vice-Chairman. Their nephew, Francesco Trapani, was nominated Chief Executive Officer. The 1990’s represented another turning point. Bulgari implemented the diversification strategy with the introduction of fragrances and accessories and gave further boost to its international expansion by having the Holding Company Bulgari S.p.A. listed on the Milan Stock Exchange.
After 2000 Bulgari’s vertical integration strategy continued with the acquisition of companies operating in the sectors of watch-making and leather goods and the accessories business got a further boost with the opening of fully dedicated stores.
Today the Bulgari creations, renowned for the distinctive, bold and contemporary style, are highly appreciated by an international clientele fond of high quality and unique design.
THE BVLGARI QUALITY
Every Bulgari creation is permeated with a spirit of excellence, hence the attention to detail and the search for absolute quality, typical of each product, coexist with a yearning for surpassing oneself and responding passionately to the ever changing market’s requests. The Bulgari jewels take shape as a watercolor or tempera drawing.
The subsequent transformation of a drawing into a finished jewel is left to the skilled hands of the artisans, whose job is to produce a jewel of extraordinary softness, roundness, polish and perfection. From the very first drawing, the idea is analyzed and developed creatively so as to assess the materials and colors that are most suitable for its creation, wearability and coherence with the Bulgari tradition and style. An internal workshop has been created with the aim of developing the jewellery collections on the basis of the Bulgari excellence and quality criteria.
Furthermore, in 1996, in order to offer the ultimate service to its clientele, Bulgari created a Bulgari Gemmological Centre, providing gemmological certifications for most major stones mounted by the firm. As far as watches are concerned, Bulgari succeeds in combining a refined design with sophisticated mechanisms, produced and examined according to strict and rigorous Swiss certification criteria, a guarantee of high quality. All Bulgari watches are created at Bulgari Time in Neuchâtel, Switzerland. In order to assure the same qualitative level for all Bulgari creations, the perfumes and skincare lines are produced with the same care and attention to detail.
For this reason, Bulgari has chosen to directly control each phase of the creation, production, and distribution of its perfumes and skincare lines through Bulgari Parfums, based in Switzerland.
Bulgari also controls the creation, production and distribution of its silk and leather products by working very closely with the manufacturing companies located in Italy. Bulgari’s great relationship with Luxottica’s product development team has resulted in the creation of an innovative and refined eyewear collection. The service to the client is also a Bulgari prerogative. Personnel is trained with the “Excellence Programme” with the objective of bringing, in every Bulgari store, the standard of excellence distilled throughout the centenary experience in the Via Condotti store. Retailers are selected carefully as well in order to guarantee the same impeccable service standards offered in all Bulgari stores.
THE BVLGARI JEWELS
Bulgari’s success is largely due to an understanding that the evolution of style must follow changes in times, tastes and habits. The Bulgari style is, in fact, a balanced mix of classicism and modernity in a continuous search for innovative design and materials, with a special attention towards color combinations. The sense of volume, the love for linearity and symmetry, and certain details recalling art and architecture are classic characteristics of the Bulgari creations.
THE BVLGARI WATCHES
The Bulgari watches are for both men and women and are distinguished by a creative and contemporary style characteristic of all Bulgari creations. The timepieces are created according to the most rigorous Swiss watch-making quality criteria. Bulgari has been producing finely crafted jewelled watches in platinum and diamonds since 1920.
During the Art Déco period in the 1930’s, lapel watches also began to be produced. In the 1940’s watches were created with softer shapes in yellow gold and diamonds, but without geometrical motifs. The 1950’s and 1960’s are characterized by the original triple-coiled gold snake wristwatch decorated with diamonds that soon became a Bulgari bestseller. In the 1970’s, the Group made its debut in the fine watch-making sector, by introducing collections of watches to complement the creation and production of its jewels and silverware.
In the early 1980’s, Bulgari Time was founded in Neuchâtel, Switzerland. It oversees the creation and production of all Bulgari watches. In 1993, Bulgari embarked on a strategy to selectively distribute its watches through the most prestigious retailers of the world. The success of the watch segment led the Group to carry out a vertical integration strategy in order to increase its expertise in the watch-making, to reach the highest quality standards and optimise the production processes.
In June 2000, the Bulgari Group acquired 100% of Gérald Genta S.A., Daniel Roth S.A., Swiss leaders in high-end watch making, and Manufacture de Haute Horlogerie S.A., the owner of the related manufacturing facilities. This acquisition gave rise to a new company named Daniel Roth et Gérald Genta Haute Horlogerie S.A. The Bulgari watches are for both men and women and are distinguished by a creative and contemporary style characteristic of all Bulgari creations.
The timepieces are created according to the most rigorous Swiss watch-making quality criteria. The commitment of Bulgari in the vertical integration strategy went on in 2005 with the acquisition of a 50% stake in Cadrans Designs S.A., a Swiss company leader in the creation and production of sophisticated and avant-garde dials for complicated and high-end watches of the most prestigious international watch-making brands. Following this, in October 2005, Bulgari also acquired a 51% stake of the Swiss firm Prestige D’Or S.A., leader in the production of steel and precious metals watch straps for high end watches. Both the acquisitions have been completed at 100% in 2009.
Two years later Bulgari acquired 100% of Finger S.A, a Swiss company specialized in the creation and production of sophisticated cases for complicated and high-end watches of the most prestigious international watch-making brands. Always in 2007 Bulgari signed an agreement with Leschot S.A. for the purchase of machineries and intellectual properties in order to support the future internal development of a new movement de manufacture. As a fruit of a rational and organic evolution aiming to advance in the sector of watch excellence and, in particular, in the high-end and grandes complications segment, in 2010 the Gérald Genta and Daniel Roth collections have become part of the watch assortment under the Bulgari brand.
The merge of the cutting-edge skills of the Gérald Genta and Daniel Roth Manufacture in Le Sentier with the prestigious image of Bulgari is embodied in new watch creations, where the Bulgari brand is featured along with the Gérald Genta and Daniel Roth logos, while preserving the technical and aesthetic qualities of the two Swiss brands. In November 2010, Bulgari signed a strategic partnership with Hengdeli Holdings Limited, the largest retail company of high-end watches through multi-brand watch stores located in mainland China. In light of this agreement, Hengdeli will be the sole distributor of Bulgari watches through multi-brand watch stores located in mainland China.
The Manufacture Bvlgari
More than 350 employees representing dozens of professions dedicated to the infinitely small and precision are at work on the Brand’s various production sites, from Le Sentier to Saignelégier via La Chaux-de-Fonds.
With a current over 350-strong workforce and integrated production of all watch parts spread over five sites in the Jura mountains, at the heart of a major hub of the most sophisticated skills and crafts, the Manufacture Bvlgari has developed so strongly that it now fully masters the production of mechanical watch movements ranging from Grande Complication to ultra-thin hand-wound calibres, as well as standard Solotempo self-winding base movements. Production of the external elements – metal cases and bracelets, high-end dials – is also done internally. The vertical integration that began a few years ago has reached cruising speed and has effectively put Bvlgari Watchmaking right up amongst the elite of Swiss watch manufacturers.
Shaping the periphery of the bridge of a mechanical movement until a sharp angle is achieved, delicately lacquering the surface of a champlevé dial, polishing the 110 facets of the Octo case with care and patience. These are just three of the dozens of daily operations performed in-house on the Brand’s production sites. Only a few exceptional brands can currently claim global mastery of the multiple processes involved in making a watch – encompassing design and development, mechanical movements, as well as metal cases and bracelets.
For behind these complex objects lie a number of age-old skills combined with state-of-the-art technologies. Behind the Fine Watchmaking masterpiece is a vast and complex network, filled with multiple skills – all completely interconnected and independent, backed by cutting-edge technologies or by traditional dexterity in craftsmanship. The Manufacture Bvlgari is currently able to master the entire process and to manufacture its creations in-house, the privilege of authentic players in the world of luxury.
Vertical integration has enabled the brand to progressively acquire all the skills required to make a complete watch by setting up a production division handling everything from the first sketches from the design office – forming the basis for the development conducted by the Technical Department – and right the way through to the absolute final checks. It is spread over several manufacturing sites, all rooted in the heart of the purest tradition and the finest skills: Le Sentier for the Grande Complication and ultra-thin Finissimo movements; La Chaux-de-Fonds and Le Sentier for the production and assembly of the Solotempo calibre; Saignelégier for gold and steel cases and bracelets; while the high-end dials are manufactured in La Chaux-de-Fonds. Assembly and the final controls on the watch take place In Neuchâtel, the nerve centre of operations.
At the heart of watchmaking creation beats the mechanical movement. This amazing assembly of parts, up to a thousand in the case of the most sophisticated horological complications, has to find its place in the infinitesimal volume measuring just a few cubic centimetres at most. This ‘motor’ must naturally prove capable of marking off time with unfailing precision. These masterpieces of miniaturisation are the work of the Manufacture de Haute Horlogerie in Le Sentier, which brings together the most elite skills connected with the central part of the watch.
Completion of the projects developed by movement design engineers marks the start of the numerous phases involved in producing the many movement components, which will undergo a succession of machining, milling, spark-erosion and turning operations.
Certain elements, almost invisible to the naked eye, have to meet thousandth of a millimetre precision standards. This phase dominated by sophisticated machines is followed by countless others, including meticulous hand finishing of the various parts.
Methods involved ultra-modern production tools are combined with purely hand-crafted prowess inherited from several centuries of tradition that are vibrantly alive and indispensable in decorating movement parts. Meticulously elimination of imperfections, hand bevelling, circular satin-brushing, snailing, satin-brushing and circular-graining…
This fascinating array of techniques gives each of the parts of a Fine Watchmaking movement its superlative final appearance, through time-honoured gestures often bordering on the goldsmith’s art. This quest for excellence naturally corresponds to an extremely limited production of complex mechanisms, especially when it comes to perfecting the vital elements of a striking watch – gongs and hammers – regulated by a tourbillon spinning in its carriage. In this specific instance, the master-watchmakers devote an entire year to such a complex masterpiece that may comprise up to a thousand parts.
Silence and painstaking concentration team up with experience in giving life to an exceptional and truly rare creation of which the Brand is an acknowledged master.
The quality standards inherent in complicated movements are naturally applied with the Manufacture Bvlgari to functionally simpler mechanisms such as the Finissimo and Solotempo calibres. In both instances, whether ultra-thin hand-wound or self-winding movements, these stringent requirements are applied to the entire range of manufacturing stages in order to achieve a result meeting the highest standards of excellence.
While undoubtedly the central element in a mechanical watch, its ‘motor’ is nevertheless only one facet of its character, since its external parts are naturally equally important – and just as complex when it comes to producing the case, dial and bracelet. At Bvlgari, these elements are subject to the same rigorous demands throughout the processes involved in their production. The artisans at the dial-making Manufacture in La Chaux-de-Fonds are keenly aware that the dial, the face of the watch, plays a decisive role – since it is the first instantly visible aspect of a watch. Its production involves a range of constraints very similar to those of a movement, and a set of equally meticulous operations meeting the most sophisticated standards of excellence. Just as with a high-end movement, the expertise required to produce extremely high-end dials is also very refined and implies a set of skills underpinned by a precious value: experience. The face of the Carillon Tourbillon is a fine example of this know-how.
Unlike large-scale industrial production, the dial-making Manufacture handles extremely complex processes in which the human hand plays a central role and requiring a high degree of competence – which is indispensable in order to guarantee the perfect workmanship of the series made using traditional hand-crafted methods. The machining of the brass plate and its polishing are followed by several very delicate operations requiring the experience acquired by practice: transferring, spreading a fine layer of lacquer picked up by a hand-guided pad and then applied to the dial to print the minute circle or the finely graduated scales on dial counters. No school provides training in this extremely delicate operation. Even slight excessive or insufficient pressure entails starting all over again. The same goes for gluing mother-of-pearl, applying sapphire plates or various types of lacquering such as using the champlevé technique. The latter artistic dial treatment is a legacy from ancestral decorative techniques and a cherished Bvlgari speciality.
The metal of the dial surface is incised to create recesses that are then filled with lacquer or enamel. Extreme finesse and precision are the keynotes of this sophisticated process that will endow the dial with a pleasing aesthetic appeal based on the kind of unique contrasts characteristic of the artistic crafts – a category to which champlevé undoubtedly belongs.
As with the dials, the case and bracelet Manufacture in Saignelégier regroups a wide variety of highly specialised professions, all of which demand dexterity achieved through experience. The site is based on the same guidelines and its production is intended for the Brand’s most iconic and exclusive models.
Entering this place gives a sense of entering Vulcan’s legendary forges, with computer numerically controlled machines relentless cutting gold or steel blocks under oil jets, as well as a large polishing room where all components are dealt with by hand, right the way through to the smallest bracelet links.
This world is inhabited by robots, including some working 24/7, with their articulated hands constantly working the parts in several different operations until a semi-finished product is ready to pursue its destiny. As illustrated by the case of the Serpenti, a number of hand-crafted operations will be required before the component is ready to play its assigned part within the watch.
These steps including sandblasting or beadblasting, soldering and hand-polishing, after which the parts composing the case or bracelet sculpted in precious metal are ready to be put together. The process culminates in a last check of each of the finished parts before the watches are assembled in the Neuchâtel workshops.
Spread between the various production sites, the people who make the Manufacture Bvlgari tick represent dozens of highly specialised skills and professions, daily combining several hundred hours of work within a perfectly orchestrated ballet-like performance. Their watchwords are patience, a love of the infinitely small and a passion for giving birth to exceptional and authentically organic creations.
From the Octo to the Carillon Tourbillon, from the Grande Sonnerie to Diagono and from Serpenti to BVLGARI-BVLGARI, their work is governed by a single principle: the quest for perfection and beauty through a perfect combination of Swiss expertise and Italian creativity.
Data provided by SwissTime.ch